Training a fearful rescue dog


Is your dog fearful or does he have anxiety? What is the difference and does it really matter which one it is?

Anxiety in dogs look a bit different than in people but it’s affect is the same.

So, what do I mean by that? First, let’s define anxiety. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. In other words, it’s worrying about the future. It’s worrying about something that may or may not happen in the future. In dogs, that can look like pacing or panting quickly or jumping up or high-pitched barking. In people, it can look like someone biting a finger nail, loss of appetite, or a furrowed brow. For my Cinnamon, anxiety sets in, when she hears the front door bell ringing and she is anticipating that a stranger will be walking through my front door. She starts jumping, barking and the hairs on her back go up!

So, what does a fearful dog look like?

The definition of fear is an unpleasant and strong emotion, reason for alarm, or danger. Fear for a dog is something that is happening now. It is something that startles your pup now. In a former post I talked about how Cinnamon hates when a bicyclist comes up behind us on a walk. She wasn’t anticipating it, it just came upon her and startled her and caused fear. What does she do? She lurches out at the bike, barks, and the hairs on the back of her back rise. It’s like when we are in deep thought reading this blog and someone comes up behind you quietly and puts a hand on your shoulder and you jump. They startled you and caused momentary fear.

What to do?

The first thing to do, if you have a fearful dog, is to try to avoid the overstimulating situation if you can. We live by a busy road. The sound of the cars and bikes, cause fear in my Cinnamon, so I choose to walk by that road when the traffic is low. That way I can socialize her into the situation without overwhelming her. I am mentally prepared. I am on the watch out for oncoming bikers, walkers, cars, so I am not startled and I can stay calm. There are some products that you can buy to help reduce the tension in your dog before you he/she has to go into a potentially fearful situation. I talked about a thundershirt in a previous post. I cannot say enough about how well it works. It gives Cinnie the comforting sense of security she needs by putting gentle pressure throughout her torso as we walk. Another item that really works is calming drops or treats. It’s really hard to get cinnamon to take the drops, but she loves her treats. I find these treats to work really well

. ‘> These treats provide Cinnamon with just the right amount of relaxation before our walk so she’s not so skittish.

The main focus is to remember who is in charge with our fearful rescue dog.

We, the master, are in charge. We need to remember to be mindful of when we go for a walk or when we have visitors over. We need to keep our pets in a safe, calm environment. We need to provide them with the strategies they need to be at their best and we must always remain calm and be in control, when they need us to be.

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